Ease in Writing
Writing Tips from Full Circle Communications
May 2009
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Ease in Writing?

"Ease in writing" comes from a poem by Alexander Pope, the British poet:

True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance.

Foot step chartNote he (and I) didn't say "easy writing." But just like dance lessons can help get you around the floor with your partner more gracefully, the goal for this newsletter is to share a tip or two each month so you can improve how your organization communicates in writing.
From Flip Chart to Finished Report
You've probably participated in a retreat
numeralsor brainstorming session where all those great ideas....somehow get lost in the shuffle once you're back in the office. While a write-up of the action won't guarantee success, it definitely increases the chances.

"A report is a visual reminder of the changes people committed to," explained master facilitator Merianne Liteman, co-author of the book Retreats That Work. "If it's done right, it will let people who weren't in the room in on the ideas and serve as a way to measure progress."

Does wading through all those flip chart pages and sticky notes sound scary?  Liteman recommends the following--
  • Sift as you sit: To avoid being overwhelmed afterwards, get organized even as the meeting is going on. Be clear about decisions and other concrete actions taken. Ask for clarity, for example, for those staccato phrases that, back at your office, you have to decipher into English. During a multi-day retreat, you may want to comb through and summarize the flip charts at night for key points and then check back with the group the following day on the accuracy of your summary.
  • Out the door in 24: Prepare a 1- to 2-page summary, to be sent out under the signature of the meeting convener (usually a senior staff person), within 24 hours. Otherwise, like the game of Telephone, everyone will come out of the meeting with a different account of what happened.
  • Visual cues: Your post-sesflip chartsion summary can expand beyond a traditional report. Post particularly important flip charts, such as the group's commitments, in the conference room or other public place for a week, along with a blank flip-chart page for everyone to write comments and questions.
  • The longer report is still short: A fuller report is important, but she stresses it must still focus on the "so what" rather than the "how we got there."
"Put what's most important first, rather than a chronology or a blow-by-blow of what happened," she said. An executive summary and subheads ("Decisions," "Deadlines," etc.) will help. The background information goes into an appendix. But while "shorter is better," sometimes the excitement of a meeting is lost in the write-up. To add spark, Liteman suggests asking the facilitator to provide comments (maybe set apart in italics or in a box), noting, for example, parts of the meeting that generated a lot of debate, represented a breakthrough, or were noteworthy for other reasons.
  • Beware the bulleted list  (perhaps including this one!): Lists that emanate from retreats or other meetings sometimes convey a false sense of priority, in which "people assume that the top point is more important than #15, which may not be the case." One work-around is graphic-organizing software (Liteman uses Inspiration), which presents information in a non-hierarchical way.
In contrast, summarizing scientific meetings or other events that require a full record requires a different tack. I'll write about that next month.
RetreatsRetreats That Work
numeralsWriting up results of a retreat or other creative meeting is just one element to consider in convening a session that accomplishes your goals.

Merianne Liteman, Sheila Campbell, and Jeff Liteman combined their expertise from leading scores of retreats in this practical and down-to-earth book with sections for facilitators and for clients who want to convene a retreat. It explains reasons to hold--and reasons not to hold--a retreat, suggests activities to accomplish different purposes, and provides solutions to common obstacles. A CD includes templates and other tools. Learn more about the book and their other work at their website.